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What are scaly leg mites?

Summer is a good time to give your hens’ legs a check over while they’re not covered in mud, paying particular attention to whether or not they have scaly leg mites present. 

A healthy leg should have smooth scales with no raised areas; if you are seeing scales lifting or thickened areas, your hen may have scaly leg. 

This is a condition caused by a mite called ‘Knemidocoptes Mutans’ which burrows under the skin on a bird’s legs to feed on the keratin. The tunnelling irritates your hens’ legs and their scales become thickened as the keratin seeps from the leg tissue, eventually becoming encrusted and lifting away from the leg. The legs will appear lumpy with large gaps visible between the individual scales.  

Scaly leg mites can spread from bird to bird in your flock, so, if one of your hens has developed scaly leg, it is likely the rest will also be infected. This means all hens should be treated. 

Scaly leg is generally not considered a painful condition but can cause discomfort. The good news is that it is easy to treat. 

Symptoms of scaly leg mites

  • The mites burrow under the scales on legs and cause extreme irritation feeding on tissue secretions
  • Initially scales lift if untreated causing crusting, swelling, thickening, bleeding and lameness if severe
  • Mites are spread by direct contact with infected birds
a pair of hen legs showing damage from scaly leg mites
Figure 1: Hen legs showing scale damage

Treatment for scaly leg mites

  • A thick layer of Vaseline applied daily for a week causes mites to suffocate* 
  • Swarfega acts similarly and can assist in removing crusty scales revealing clean, healthy tissue underneath 
  • Daily bathing in a mild antiseptic such as Savlon or Hibiscub can be beneficial, but this will need repeating daily for several weeks 

*Please note, officially any petroleum-based product is considered toxic to hens; however, our staff and volunteers have used this on our own birds without any ill effects. 

In the same way that a hen sheds her feathers during a moult, the damaged scales on her legs will need to fall off in order for new ones to regrow. Do not be tempted to pick them off as this will cause soreness and potential bleeding. 

Preventing scaly leg mites 

Scaly leg mite can be passed easily between your flock, so keep a close eye on them and inspect them regularly for signs of scaly leg. 

Similarly, limiting access to wild birds can help prevent the spread. 

While you are checking the legs make sure that any leg rings you have fitted are not too tight or damaged. 

For more information on scaly leg, and what causes it, check out our hen health problems page here. Please note, these home remedies are not intended to offer a cure or replace veterinary treatment, but may alleviate symptoms where no professional support is easily available. The suggestions are based on experience gained with our own hens. 

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